How to Make Filipino Chicken Adobo

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Start to Finish: 18 to 24 hours (40 minutes prep time) Servings: 4 to 6 Difficulty Level: Intermediate

For Americans trained to think of "adobo" as the sauce chipotles come in, the Filipino dish of the same name can be rather a shock. Philippine food in general makes a joyous mishmash of influences from its Asian neighbors and its colonial history, and adobo is a fine example. Made by cooking chicken or fatty pork in a tangy, soy-based marinade, the end result is sticky, tender and altogether wonderful.

The recipe and technique for chicken adobo work equally well with pork.
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  • 6 to 10 cloves garlic
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns, crushed coarsely
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 fryer chicken, cut up, or 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs or wings
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • Oil
  • 2 to 3 green onions (optional)

Smash the garlic cloves with the flat of a knife. Peel and coarsely chop them; then combine them with the bay leaves, peppercorns and liquid ingredients.

Stir the marinade ingredients to combine them, and then add the chicken pieces. Be sure the chicken is covered by the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Heat a small quantity of oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet. Add the diced onion, and cook it at moderate heat until it's soft and translucent, but not browned.

Transfer the chicken pieces to the skillet, arranging them skin-side down. Pour in the marinade, and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the chicken pieces reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, when tested with an instant-read thermometer.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pan, and keep them warm. Skim off as much excess fat as possible, and bring the marinade to a boil. Cook it down to half of its original volume or until it makes a dark and sticky glaze.

Serve the chicken pieces on white rice, spooning the thickened glaze over top. Garnish with sliced green onion, if you wish.

Filipino cooking is a much more relaxed affair than many other cuisines, so there is no single canonical version of the dish. Many cooks use alternative techniques, though the end result is quite similar. For example, you might opt to cook the marinated chicken in a skillet, while reducing the marinade in a separate pan. This creates a browned and caramelized surface on the chicken, adding another layer of flavor. If you avoid frying whenever possible, you can achieve a similar result by baking the chicken pieces on a sheet pan, glazed with the reduced marinade.

Similarly, the ingredients -- and especially their proportions -- are not set in stone. Feel free to adjust the proportions of soy, vinegar and water to suit your own taste and to increase or decrease the garlic. Filipino cooks typically use palm vinegar, which can be found in some Asian markets. It's less harsh than white vinegar, and more flavorful. If you only have white vinegar, you might wish to add 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar to mellow its sharp edge.

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